WASHINGTON — The House on Monday approved a bill to give federal protection to a 151-mile stretch of the Kern River, making the waterway the third California river to be given such status by Congress this year.
The legislation was passed on a 363-26 vote. The Senate already has passed a similar measure and President Reagan is expected to sign it.
The measure would limit non-recreational development on sections of the river and would make it eligible for up to $100,000 for maintenance and land acquisition as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
Obtaining wild and scenic protection for the Kern is the last step in an environmental campaign that earlier this year won similar status for two other targeted California rivers, the Kings and Merced.
Some residents along the Kern River opposed the measure, fearing that it would allow the federal government to take control of their property. But the legislation, which failed to win Senate approval last year, won broad support this year as some previously undecided legislators, including Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), agreed that the bill's restrictions would not seriously threaten the interests of property owners near a hydroelectric diversion point on the river.
'Beauty, Resources' Hailed
Susan LeFever of Friends of the River, a statewide organization that has made protection of the three rivers its top lobbying priority, said that Monday's action means the Kern River "is not just something to keep the timber wet. It has an importance in its own right for its beauty and resources."
The area designated for protection runs from the river's source near Mt. Whitney through the Sequoia National Park and down to the Tulare-Kern county line. Federal protection was opposed by some landowners and county officials in a 17-mile stretch along the lower part of its north fork.
Ted Scott said that he and fellow residents in the Kernville area fear the legislation will mean that the federal government can regulate use or take control of their property through condemnation.
Scott, calling the defeat "terribly bitter," said he sees no need for protected status, adding that "it's already protected. There's no problem. . . . Why lock it up forever in a wild and scenic designation and threaten the rights of the grazers and the ranchers and the people who live here?"
Federal officials have said that local interests will not be harmed, but Kern County Supervisor Roy Ashburn said: "The constituents who know this area and live here simply don't believe it."